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TOP OF THE TICKET

A little secret about Obama's transparency

The current administration, challenged by the president to be the most open, is now denying more Freedom of Information Act requests than Bush did.

March 21, 2010|By Andrew Malcolm

The Democratic administration of Barack Obama, who denounced his predecessor, George W. Bush, as the most secretive in history, is now denying more Freedom of Information Act requests than the Republican did.

Transparency and openness were so important to the new president that on his first full day in office, he dispatched a much-publicized memo saying: "All agencies should adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure, in order to renew their commitment to the principles embodied in FOIA, and to usher in a new era of open government. The presumption of disclosure should be applied to all decisions involving FOIA."

One of the exemptions allowed to deny Freedom of Information requests has been used by the Obama administration 70,779 times in its first year; the same exemption was used 47,395 times in Bush's final budget year.

An Associated Press examination of 17 major agencies' handling of FOIA requests found denials 466,872 times, an increase of nearly 50% from the 2008 fiscal year under Bush.

As Ed Morrissey notes on the blog Hot Air, during a time of war and terrorist threats, any government can justify not releasing some sensitive information. And true, Obama had previously been a legislator, not an executive.

But why make such a big campaign deal over a previous administration's secrecy when you're going to end up being even more secretive?

On March 16 to mark annual Sunshine Week, designed to promote openness in government, Obama applauded himself by issuing a statement:

"As Sunshine Week begins, I want to applaud everyone who has worked to increase transparency in government and recommit my administration to be the most open and transparent ever."

However, a new study out March 15 by George Washington University's National Security Archive finds less than one-third of the 90 federal agencies that process such FOIA requests have made significant changes in their procedures since Obama's 2009 memo.

So, a day later, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel sent out yet another memo. Since the agencies ignored the memo from the president, they'll all snap to when the staffer's note arrives, don't you think?

Top of the Ticket, The Times' blog on national politics ( www.latimes.com/ ticket), is a blend of commentary, analysis and news. This is a selection from the last week.

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